FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets opened a three-day minicamp Tuesday under bright blue skies, low humidity and warm temperatures – perfect conditions for their midday practice and the ultimate setting for a team with so much optimism about what lies ahead.
First-year coach Robert Saleh shares that optimism, but what he’s most anxious for is when conditions turn gloomy and his team is faced with challenges that seem far removed from the euphoria of Tuesday’s setting.
"I’m excited to see adversity," Saleh said.
It is then and only then that the coach knows he will be able to judge whether his team is up to the inevitable challenge that every football season brings. Or whether this iteration of the Jets will be like so many others that end in heartbreak and disappointment.
"We’re going to have some adverse moments right from the [start]," the former 49ers’ defensive coordinator said. "How we handle them is going to make or break this football team."
Saleh likes what he has seen so far from his young team, starting with quarterback Zach Wilson and the rest of what seems to be a promising rookie class. But also from the veterans who remain from last year’s nightmarish team that ended with Adam Gase’s ouster and ushered in the Saleh regime.
"They’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of positive to ‘em," he said. "There’s a lot of juice in the building. This spring has been fantastic, and we’re really looking forward to training camp."
It is nothing new for a first-year coach to feel this kind of enthusiasm, but Saleh is well aware that the optimism of spring doesn’t always translate into the promise of autumn. Wilson hasn’t thrown any interceptions, the defense hasn’t been embarrassed by a game-deciding drive late in the fourth quarter and Saleh hasn’t made any decisions open to second-guessing. In other words, the ultimate backdrop to Tuesday’s practice will soon dissolve into the cold, hard reality of the football season.
Most of the team’s offseason work has already been done, and Saleh ran a decidedly light practice Tuesday, some of which was conducted with players having the option of wearing helmets or not. No punishing hits. No full-padded work. In fact, after Thursday’s final day, it will be mostly meetings.
"I feel like the guys have had a really good offseason of work," Saleh said. "That third day, I just felt like it would be good for organization meetings and just go cross some T’s and dot some I’s. We’ll just do some in-house stuff and not touch the practice field."
No, this is not your father’s old-school coach. In fact, there was a decidedly West Coast offense feel to Tuesday’s practice, with much of the action centering on getting the players in the right position and knowing their assignments. Saleh is from the Bill Walsh school of coaches, where practices are more cerebral as opposed to the Bill Parcells school that stresses more physical work.
"We don’t want to train them to be soft, we want to train them to continue to build and get better with regards to their load," Saleh said. "Even if we wanted to be the old-school, two-a-day, double-padded practices, you just can’t, per league rules."
But Saleh said there will come a time "that you do need pads on, you do have to be able to hit and run into one another on a day-to-day basis. I still think you have to be smart with how you prepare these guys to be at their absolute best on Sundays."
Ah, Sundays, the days that ultimately define what a football team is about, the days that Saleh will discover if the optimism he feels now is justified, and how long it will take to reach his ultimate goal of winning a championship.
He also knows that the only way to tell what these Jets will become is how they respond when things go wrong.
Rest assured, that will happen soon enough.